What are your research topics?
I investigate how nanotechnological solutions could be used to develop increasingly effective pharmaceutical agents, or novel drug formulations known as nanomedicines.
Nanomedicines are one-thousandth of the diameter of a hair in size, and they can be thought of as small robots that travel through our bodies to specific sites damaged or affected by a disease. Once on site, they release a drug that treats or cures the disorder, a little like how the immune system was envisioned to function in the 1980s animation series Once Upon a Time... Life.
I also develop new measuring techniques that can be used to investigate and better understand how the properties of nanomedicines affect their functioning.
Where and how does the topic of your research have an impact?
Nanomedicines are fascinating, as they can be used to deliver drugs in the body with increasing accuracy. This reduces the adverse effects of drugs, improves their effectiveness and reduces their environmental impact.
My research helps us understand how to design and manufacture precisely the right kind of nanomedicines that are extremely effective, targeted at the desired sites in the body and able to deliver drugs to inaccessible tissues, such as the brain or the eyes. This would make it possible to treat a wide range of challenging diseases.
At their best, the new research methods I am developing could speed up the development of nanomedicines and their transition from bench to bedside. In addition, they could reduce the need for animal testing at the development stage of novel nanomedicines.
What is particularly inspiring in your field right now?
At the moment, I am inspired by multidisciplinary collaborative research on extracellular vesicles and spherical nucleic acid carriers. Extracellular vesicles are a type of natural nanoparticles occurring in many different tissues of the body. In cooperation with researchers from the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service and research groups from the University of Helsinki, Tampere University and the University of Eastern Finland, we are investigating whether extracellular vesicles can be utilised in the treatment and diagnostics of progressive diseases for which there are no curative therapies.
I am investigating spherical nucleic acid carriers in cooperation with research groups at the University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University. Spherical nucleic acids are nano-sized nucleic acid transporters, which I think have a great chance of revolutionising the treatment of severe diseases such as prostate and breast cancer.
Tapani Viitala is Professor of Novel Drug Formulations at the Faculty of Pharmacy.